When I was a kid, I loved pizza. Growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, there were so many great pizza restaurants around. At the time, I didn’t realize how special they really were, and how difficult it is to create a great pizza. The secret, I found out, is in the spicy sauce and thin, crispy crust. My deceased grandmother loved to make sauce. My family would grow fresh basil in the backyard and use it in the sauce. Oftentimes sauce is what makes for good Italian food. Fresh ingredients and strong spices make it stellar. Since I moved to Texas a few years ago, I haven’t been happy with the local pizza. I decided to put on my oven gloves and take it to the kitchen, making my own pizza – the way I remember it from my childhood.
Special order ingredients (best quality):
OR common grocery store ingredients:
- 1.5 cups all purpose flour, 1.5 cups bread flour, 1 cup semolina flour (this gives extra elasticity to the dough mix.)
- 1/2 package yeast (regular, rapid-rise, or pizza-specific yeast)
- 1 teaspoon Mediterranean sea salt
- 1 cup warm (but not boiling) purified water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 can of tomato puree / paste | San Marzano Italian Tomatoes are best
- 1 can of diced tomatoes (optional)
- Oregano, crushed red pepper, basil, pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 white onion (diced)
- Corn meal
- Optional – mozzarella cheese (whole milk – not skim. In block form.)
- Optional – Pepperoni (I like Hormel’s Original Pepperoni or pepperoni from the butcher section of organic grocery stores)
Kitchen Items Needed
- stainless steel bowl
- pizza peel
- pizza cutter
- pizza screen
- cheese grater
- non-stick cooking spray
- wood or coal-fired oven imported from Naples (not really, but if you have too much money and lots of space… why not?)
Gimme the Dough
Use non-stick spray in a large stainless steel bowl to keep flour from sticking to the bowl. Heat 1 cup of water to 120 degrees. For me, 1 cup of water in a 1400 watt microwave for 30 seconds at full-power works. You DON’T want the water too warm or it will kill the yeast. Mix warm water, yeast and sugar in the cup of warm water. I use a measuring cup to mix the yeast with the sugar. Let sit for at least 5-10 minutes. You should see about a .5 inch foam top form due to the yeast. If no foam starts to generate after a few minutes you either killed the yeast with hot water or the yeast is no good (they do expire – check the package). Mix flour with olive oil and salt. Add the warm water / yeast mix to the large bowl. Stir with a large spoon. When the mix starts to congeal, rub it into a ball. Cover the ball of dough with the mixing bowl and let the dough rise for 4 hours.
Follow the ingredient amounts exactly. If you do, no adjustments will need to be made. If the dough is too dry, add some more water. It may also need a little more olive oil. If the dough is too wet, add more flour. Knead the dough until it has a nice consistency – not too dry, not too wet. Leave the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel or plate for at least an hour.
Setup the Special Sauce
Mix the tomato puree, diced tomatoes, salt, olive oil, sugar and diced onions in a sauce pan. Place stove on medium heat. Mix in seasoning. The secret to New Haven style pizza is the larger amount of seasoning, especially red pepper and oregano. Also the wood or coal-fired oven found in the restaurants give it a really unique taste. You should mix enough red pepper and oregano so that you can see it everywhere in the sauce. You can a little garlic but beware –garlic is very potent and just a little too much can ruin all the sauce. Same goes for salt. About 4 tablespoons of basil and regular pepper should be enough, but taste to your own preference. After 10 minutes on medium heat, adjust heat to low setting, and cook for 1 hour. Stir constantly and taste until it is spicy.
I knead a Pizza
Use a wooden cutting board to knead the dough. There will be enough dough for 4 small pizzas. New Haven style pizza is very, very thin. It can be difficult to get dough very thin. Just keep kneading and flipping the dough. Press with your fingers in an outward motion to stretch the dough on the cutting board or pizza peel. If you can start to see through the dough you’ve stretched it too thin.
Place some cornmeal on a pizza peel. Press the dough on the peel so the cornmeal sticks to the bottom. This will help it slide off the peel (and adds a bit of flavor). When the dough is thin enough and in a pizza shape, place it on the spatula. Dip a brush in olive oil, and then use the brush to brush the olive oil on the crust.
Use a large spoon to put the sauce on the dough, spreading it evenly. Place a little extra olive oil on the sauce to help it from burning in the hot oven. Spread the olive oil on the sauce with the spoon. You can add toppings; however the sauce is the star of the show and the pizza is best enjoyed with sauce only.
Use a cheese grater to grate a block of whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the cheese on the pizza. Add pepperoni if desired. Place the pizza on a metal pizza screen. Pizza screens are more durable than cheap pizza stones and help the heat flow through for a crispier crust. Pricer pizza stones are great but need to be thick to be durable and need more time to to preheat in the oven to get hot.
New Haven style pizza crust is a little crispier than average pizza, and the thin crust will also make it crispier. Preheat oven. Place the pizza in the oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. For a crisper pizza with a different taste, you could bake the pizza for 13 minutes at 500 degrees. Rack position may affect crispiness. If adding cheese be careful not to place it on a high rack otherwise the cheese will burn. Keep an eye on the pizza in the final minutes of baking.
Some of favorite pizza restaurants in New Haven include Frank Pepe’s and Modern Apizza and Tolli’s Apizza. Also, wash the pizza down with some unique soda from the area Foxon Park – my favorite is White Birch. Be sure to stop there when you in town. Traditionally, we would need a coal-fired oven to make these pizzas. You’ll notice that most pizza restaurants add just a little bit of sauce and smother the pizza with cheese. Not the best way to go in my opinion.
New Haven is renowned for its pizza, and it is also a favorite of President Clinton and other famous people. I hope you will enjoy this recipe and make this pizza from a small city in Connecticut a big part of your family life.
New Haven Pizza Experience
Frank Pinello discovers New Haven pizza or “Apizza” in this documentary.